Album Review: Author & Punisher, Krüller

author and punisher kruller

Safe to say the world has not grown less dystopian since Tristan Shone, otherwise known as the auteur of industrial doom forebear outfit Author & Punisher, last released an LP. The eight-song/52-minute Krüller, Author & Punisher‘s second full-length for Relapse Records and upwards of seventh overall depending on who counts what as what, wholly and on multiple levels confronts the time and place of its creation, operating in a swath of voices from the post-apocalyptic vigilante of “Centurion” to the subversive gender play of the Portishead cover “Glorybox” and the menacing narrator of “Incinerator” who sees not only the rising temperatures and waters of man-made climate change but the everyday horrors of police brutality, the separation and detention of immigrant families, and the overwhelming sensory onslaught of the media sphere, the latter channeled also through the dance freneticism of Shone‘s collaboration with producer Jason “Vytear” Begin on the penultimate “Blacksmith,” which accounts lyrically for a myriad of losses in a voice less judgmental than also-mourning. Much as there’s condemnation to go around, there’s also an abundance of sadness.

Some love, too, particularly on “Maiden Star,” and all of this refined focus on lyrics comes filtered through the vast, sometimes harsh, dense-gravity futurist sci-fi noisescape that along with his machination-based live presentation has made Author & Punisher the most influential purveyor of industrial music since Nine Inch Nails a generation (and then some) ago. Those who came aboard with 2018’s more outwardly aggressive Beastland (discussed here) will note some distinct shifts in approach. Shone, still seemingly able to make electronic beats sound ‘heavier’ in the doomed sense of the word — i.e. weighted low end tonality, manifest in drone and slamming impacts sounding like they were tipped off by mid/late-’90s Meshuggah — makes what feels like a conscious decision to incorporate more guitar, with parts written by Phil Sgrosso of Apathian and As I Lay Dying (Doug Sabolik of Ecstatic Vision will play live), as well as melodic vocals from Shone himself and, on the aforementioned “Maiden Star,” from his wife, Marilia Maschion.

‘Clean’ singing as opposed to barking shouts, screams, etc., is a longstanding part of Shone‘s repertoire, and featured throughout the 2018 album too, but it’s a matter of adjusting priorities, and Krüller is easily the most melodic and complex work he has done vocally. There are hints, as in the beginning of “Incinerator” or “Blacksmith,” or even the post-intro verse of the title-track, that brush up against goth dramaturge in the delivery, and perhaps a bit of nostalgia in “Incinerator” as a past is mourned: “I think back/We survived on much less/A place lost/a dead wind/The smell of our flesh,” with the last of those lines subsumed in the swell of volume that takes hold. Still, the overarching mood of the record is dark and plenty challenging and the angriest parts of “Misery,” “Incinerator,” “Centurion” and the closing title-track more than live up to the ethos of authorial punishment. Again, it is a balance that has been retooled. The vocals enhance the lyrics — and admittedly, the “refined focus” noted above may be due in part to the listener’s ability to discern what’s being said — and the lyrics act in kind.

It is early to make any such declarations, but Krüller is enough of an innovation for Author & Punisher — songwriting, performance, production, overall range of style — to be both a landmark for Shone as well as one of the year’s highlight studio achievements. That is to say, a contender for album of the year, with the obvious caveat of a lot of year to go. These songs are memorable unto themselves, but feed into the complete ambience that is first laid out in the eight-minute opener and longest track (immediate points) “Drone Carrying Dread,” in which every detail seems to matter and yet what all the details create is a floodlight of melody and atmosphere shining in your eyes through a chain link fence. When 2022 is done, Krüller will be one of its finest achievements.

Author & Punisher (Photo by Becky DiGiglio)

No doubt the leadoff was chosen as the first single from the record (“Maiden Star” being the second supports this idea as well) in part to signal to Author & Punisher‘s audience some of the differences between Krüller and Beastland or, say, 2015’s Melk En Honig, which had plenty clean parts of its own, and the subsequent Pressure Mine EP worked off a balance not unlike Krüller, but with nowhere near the same production value here, but it also serves as an invaluable introduction to the world depicted in the material that follows. Without “Drone Carrying Dread” at the front, no doubt the lines “We wake up/We fall down/We break in/We face up/We crawl down/We wade in,” from the subsequent “Incinerator” would still be a standout hook, but the context in which they arrive would be missing. While it’s not as immediate as “Centurion” or “Misery” or “Maiden Star,” “Drone Carrying Dread” needs to be where it is for Krüller to function as it does. It’s the backstory and the setting in which the rest of the album’s story takes place, right down to the New Wave-y dream synth that “Maiden Star” echoes later on, seeming to blend that with the intensity of its beat, drawn from “Incinerator” and defying expectation at once.

Much has been and likely will continue to be made of the guest spots throughout Krüller, with Justin Chancellor and Danny Carey of pre-pandemic Author & Punisher tourmates Tool respectively adding bass to “Centurion” and drums to “Misery.” I won’t minimize the hi-hat and metal-snare ting on “Misery,” which is the shortest inclusion at 4:56 and arguably the most danceable, or the abiding thickness of “Centurion” that Shone seems to match in the chorus lines, ” Wait for the siege/Reborn centurion/American legion/Forlorn centurion,” by pushing his voice to a lower register — the second chorus of that song swaps “American legion” for “American lesion,” lest anyone doubt the critique at work on cartoonish manhood, the 2021 attempted overthrow of the US government, etc. — but even with the profile of those appearances, neither has as much affect in showcasing the expansion of Author & Punisher‘s reach as the prominence of Sgrosso‘s guitar or the three-dimensional-feeling layering between Shone and Maschion on “Maiden Star.” Whatever one might want to say about the incorporation of “organic” instrumentation in industrial music, it’s nothing new, and this material is powerful, consuming and as crushing as it wants to be regardless. As the first beats of “Krüller” itself take hold and Shone commands “Bow down to it,” there seems to be little option otherwise.

That is a particularly masculine idea of dominance, and it speaks to the engagement with gender and sexuality throughout the album. Even the structure of lyrics in “Krüller” that talk about holding up a truck that “pulls to the right” follow a sort of post-Hemingway speech pattern, in marked contrast to “Glorybox” earlier, the Portishead track on which “I just want to be a woman” and “Give me a reason to love you” are repeatedly crooned. One is left to wonder if a man can exist in that space, in those lines originally delivered by Beth Gibbons on 1994’s Dummy, without acting as colonizer, but as the hammer falls in “Blacksmith” and the electronic chaos takes hold ahead of the finale, there’s barely a second for the thought before it’s wiped away like, seemingly, everything else. If “Krüller,” then, is the aftermath of the album that shares its name, its initially Godfleshian opening is quickly broadened through its procession of verses (an Anne Rice reference tossed in for good measure) headed to the chorus that answers the ardent energy of “Glorybox” with an undercurrent of addiction malevolence, slow hip-hop cadence, brutal pounding and tension building all the while, likewise furious and methodical.

And in the ending, echoing some of the earlier goth-ness — many things sound like Type O Negative to me lately, the “whoa-oh”s at the finish of “Krüller” and some of the earlier vocals fit that bill as well — Shone moves from arguably the record’s most engrossing wash to an acid-test sample in which a woman, thoroughly dosed, tells her interviewer “I feel sorry for you.” These are the last words on Krüller, and they complete not only a picture begun earlier on the album’s expanse, but the sense of mourning that pervades so much of even the most bitter stretches throughout. If this era is to be defined by what’s been lost on individual as well as macro sociopolitical levels and what’s been gained and by whom, then Author & Punisher engages the moment with an unparalleled depth of craft, guiding the listener masterfully through each visionary piece that enriches the whole. Someone should put it in a time capsule so the future can know what it was like to be alive at the start of the 2020s. Recommended.

Author & Punisher, Krüller (2022)

Author & Punisher, “Maiden Star”

Author & Punisher, “Drone Carrying Dread” official video

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